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Aliquot

A chemistry professor in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, says a word that she uses in the lab is also handy in everyday life. To aliquot something means “to divide into equal portions.” In piano construction, aliquot scaling involves adding...

Fiddlesticks

Dawn in Evansville, Indiana, wonders why we dismiss something as nonsense by exclaiming Fiddlesticks! The term arose in the 17th century, most likely because the bow for a fiddle is light, thin, and insubstantial, or in other words...

Cootie Shots and ’Uku Shots

Elizabeth in Suffolk, Virginia, spent her early childhood in Hawaii, then moved to Indiana and found that kids had a different playground game that involved pretending to use a cootie shot to inoculate someone against imagined infection from cooties...

To Harp on Something

Does the expression to harp on, as in “to nag,” have anything to do with the stringed instrument one plays by plucking? Yes! As early as the 16th century to harp all of one string meant to keep playing the same single note monotonously...

Purfling

A violin maker wonders about the origin of a practice in his trade known as purfling, where a black and white line is inlaid into a tiny channel along the edge of the instrument. Martha traces the word back to the Latin filum, meaning...